How can the pastor forgive sins?


“And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Matthew 9:2 (Read v. 1-8)

In private confession and absolution, and each Sunday in corporate worship, sinners confess their sins to the Lord God and look to Christ Jesus and His cross in faith for the forgiveness of sins; and, the pastor announces unto them the grace of God and, in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgives the sins of penitent sinners. “But who can forgive sins but God alone?” some may ask.

This is what the scribes asked within themselves when Jesus forgave the sins of a man, sick of the palsy. They thought Jesus was guilty of blasphemy because He, seeing the faith of this paralyzed man and his friends, said to the man, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Of course, anyone can say the words, but if they lack the authority to forgive sins, those words are but a deception, a lie, a sham. But Jesus proved His authority to forgive sins. He said, “Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”

And, what happened? The paralyzed man “arose, and departed to his house.” Jesus’ proved His authority to forgive sins, and He proved that His words to this man were indeed true. This man’s sins were forgiven! He could depart in peace.

And what about the words of your pastor when he hears your confession and points you to Christ Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death on the cross for the sins of the world and tells you to “go in peace; your sins are forgiven you”?

He may not be able to heal the sick or raise the dead, but Jesus did and it is Jesus who commands him to preach “repentance and remission of sins” in Christ’s name (Luke 24:47). It is Jesus who commands His disciples and His pastors to forgive the sins of penitent sinners and to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent (John 20:22-23). It is Jesus who said, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).

And notice that pastors do not forgive — or baptize, or administer the Lord’s Supper, or preach — in their own name and by their own authority. Rather, it is “in the stead and by the command” of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus healed the paralyzed man, proving His authority to forgive sins. Jesus even rose from the dead, proving the sufficiency of His sacrifice on the cross to satisfy God’s just wrath against all sins (cf. Rom. 4:23-25; 1 Cor. 15:1ff.; John 1:29). Certainly, He who paid for our sins with His blood and then rose again from the dead on the third day has the authority to forgive the sins of all who look to Him in faith.

So, when you confess your sins to God — whether in corporate worship or in private confession — and the pastor, based on your confession and your profession of faith in Christ Jesus, announces unto you the grace of God and proclaims to you that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, you can depart in peace, in good cheer, for indeed your sins are forgiven by the Lord Jesus Himself — He has the authority to forgive sins! (Cf. Luther’s Small Catechism on Confession.)

O gracious and merciful God, forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake and grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may believe and rejoice in the pardon and forgiveness won for us by our Lord Jesus Christ and promised and assured to us in Your absolution spoken by the pastor. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

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